Proteins. A word that we have heard a lot in recent years. Yet, that we know so little about.
What are proteins? And why have they gained much emphasis over the years? Is there a difference between animal-based and plant-based protein?
For your body, every single nutrient matters. Yet every lack of some nutrients matters as well. One of these nutrients is protein. One of the common mistakes among people is considering that proteins are only available in meat and its derivatives. However, we can assume that proteins exist in plants as well. And the foods rich in proteins are called “plant-based protein foods.” If we did not convince you that a plant-based protein diet is possible and practical, keep reading to the end!
The essential nutrient and its benefits
As a start, proteins are a group of nutrients that are present in all kinds of foods. And in various amounts. They constitute an essential part of foods, as well as the human body. All human organ functions involve proteins or their constituents. (such as amino acids). To count a few, they work as mediators, enzymes, and hormones. They are even building blocks of our cells, and thus, every inch of our bodies. In that sense, we all need to consume consistent amounts of proteins from our diets. They help us to grow, maintain, and repair our tissues, hormones, and immune system. Examples of such include:
The prevention of muscle mass loss, skin, hair, and nail problems, etc.
In this respect, bodybuilders focus on filling their bodies with proteins. It is the main element in their weight and body composition management. (aka muscle growth and maintenance). Yet, proteins have other benefits, such as:
- Appetite control
- Improved cardiometabolic health
- Better strength
- Enhanced immune function
- Faster recovery from illnesses and injuries.
Noting that, some people might need higher-protein levels than normal. Pregnant women, children and those with health issues. (that may interfere with protein absorption).
Plant-based protein foods: What are they?
As a bottom line, proteins are an essential component of our existence. We need to refuel proteins and obtain them from our foods.
In that matter, we find proteins in animals as well as in plants. We know them as animal-based or plant-based protein. However, these proteins differ in some ways. On one hand, beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish and all foods derived from them (i.e. dairy foods as milk, cheese, yogurt and the like). These are animal-based foods. They constitute primary sources of dietary proteins. Their absorption from these food types is more efficient than their counterparts.
Beans, nuts and seeds, grains and vegetables provide non-animal proteins. We call them plant-based protein. But, their amounts are much lower than those in animal foods. Their absorption is less efficient due to the assembly of the human digestive system and the diverse amino acid profiles of plant foods. So, these plant-based proteins have a lower content of amino acids. (aka protein building blocks).
Plant-based protein diet: the vegan rescue
This sheds light on vegan diets that contain these foods. First, it is essential to understand who vegetarians and vegans are. They are a group of people who do not consume animal products due to ethical, religious or health reasons. Their diets only include plant-based, soil-grown elements and oils. The lack of sufficient proteins in these diets raises a common concern worldwide.
Today, some claim that plant-based eaters struggle with protein. Yet, according to some members of Precision Nutrition:
Plant-based eaters were much more likely to consume sufficient proteins compared to non-plant eaters. Because some plants are rich in proteins, they are plant-based protein foods.
Allergies in some vegans may hinder their ability to consume certain types of protein sources. When plants are the only source of proteins, one should consume a higher amount of proteins than usual. In that matter, these persons’ ability to consume such foods consistently must be taken into consideration and resolved accordingly to ensure a successful, healthy and optimal diet.
To get the same benefits, and to meet one’s needs compared to regular eaters of animal, a vegan must choose plant-based protein foods.
Plant-based protein diets are effective
With planning and medical supervision, vegan diets have promising benefits. The foods within are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. (such as magnesium, Vitamin A, etc.). These minerals fight off disease and strengthen one’s body and health. They provide the major, essential nutrients, like carbs, proteins and fats as well. Also, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016 stated:
A vegan diet could provide the nutritional requirements to all age groups. (from adults, children, pregnant women and breast-feeding ones). This has led to an increase in the number of followers of these diets. The shift from carnivore became easier in the presence of nutritious plant-based protein foods.
So, receiving the required proteins from these diets is today more efficient. Various factors such as age, weight, activity level and health status determine the needs of proteins. You have to ask your doctor or dietitian about your daily protein needs to follow a healthier plant-based protein diet.
Over the years, scientists obtained various findings on plant-based foods. The most critical conclusion is than plant-based foods are rich in proteins. This result makes a plant-based protein diet possible. This new knowledge is proof that vegans do not lack a healthy diet. Low or no protein intake from meat is not a problem. Plant-based protein exists.
The best plant-based protein foods
We are listing below, plant-based protein foods to include in your diet. Along with details on their composition and possible use.
1- Quinoa. A gluten-free, starchy protein grain. Rich in proteins, fiber, and carbs. We can add it in place of starches (rice, pasta, etc…). Quinoa could be added to raw or cooked vegetables, as well. It is a substitute for rice, pasta, etc., and used as a cereal by adding fresh fruit. Quinoa is the number one plant-based protein food!
2- Lentils. A great source of protein (18g/ cup [cooked]), as well as fiber and carbs. We can cook it with seasonings into soups or add it to salads. Lentils and quinoa or rice are a great combination. Adding it while making veggie burgers is doable as well. On a personal level, I love eating lentils plain by itself! It is one of the best plant-based protein sources!
3- Seeds. A rich source of minerals, healthy fats and proteins (7 – 9 g/1/4 cup). They vary in the extent of the nutty flavor within. We can put seeds on top of any meal, like salad, desserts, raw bars, and truffles.
Examples of such: sesame, chia, sunflower, flax, hemp, and pumpkin seeds.
4- Nuts. A plentiful source of protein, omega-3, vitamin E, and minerals. Nuts have a varying taste of sweetness and nuttiness.
We put nuts on any meal, use in baked goods or add to cold cereals, oatmeal.
5- Beans. An abundant source of fibers, carbs, and protein.
Cooked with seasonings or eaten plain. Made into a vegan substitute to taco filling, meatballs, burgers and loafs. Added with quinoa or rice for a hearty meal.
6- Spirulina. A nutty-flavored, protein-rich item used as a whole food or supplement. (8 grams/ 2 tablespoons). Added to smoothies, desserts, and snacks.
7- Soy. A group of foods as tofu, tempeh and edamame. Loaded with protein, amino acids, fats, and fiber. Tempeh is the most nutritious due to its content of healthy bacteria. (resulting from its production process). These items serve as toppings to salads, sauces, fillings, or marinated dishes.
8- Cauliflower. A white vegetable profuse in several nutrients. (Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9). As well as, proteins (2.28 g/ 1 cup [cooked]). We can eat cauliflower raw with some dressing or cooked and added to a meal.
9- Leafy Greens. Vegetables that contain high amounts of protein, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. (as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6.)
Examples include: Kale (4 g/ 1 cup), and spinach (2.1 g/ 2 cups).
10- Nutritional Yeast. A cheesy-flavored food item rich in B-vitamins and protein. We use it for making dressings, dairy-free sauces and more. Try adding it to water or almond milk for a healthy sauce or dressing. Put it on top of quinoa, lentils, hummus and salads for delicious flavors.
11- Green peas. A good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, vitamins, and proteins (9 g/of cup [cooked]).
Use them as a side dish, or cooked and added to meals as pea and basil stuffed ravioli. Green peas are one of the best plant-based protein foods.
12- Oats and Oatmeal. A food item loaded with fibers, minerals and proteins (6 g/1/2 cup [dry]). Put them in dishes like veggie burgers, or use them in baking. Oats are perfect plant-based protein food.
Plant-based protein diets are the number one vegan diet. However, vegans can also follow other types of diets, like intermittent fasting, for example. It is a way of losing weight that mainly depends on time. If you want to learn more about intermittent fasting, go to Choosing Foods that Help Proper Intermittent Fasting.
To sum it up, a plant-based diet may have lower quality proteins. But it sure allows vegans to meet their daily needs of that nutrient. This happens through plant-based protein foods. (If formulated and supplemented correctly.) So, do not worry about being a vegan. And do not or hesitate to improve and enjoy your meatless diet. A mix of nutritious, plant-based protein foods are waving at you!